It is a privilege to be able to participate and contribute to various boards. It is also a way to learn new things, meet interesting people, and gain new perspectives. That has certainly been the case since I joined the board of OCLC. The board held a special meeting in Seattle this month. I got there a day early to meet some relatives in the area, one of which just started a new career with Amazon. More on that another time. The early arrival also made it possible to visit the 1962 World’s Fair Space Needle. I can not resist commenting on some of the engineering aspects of the futuristic Needle. The underground foundation was poured into a hole 30 feet deep and 120 feet across and it took 467 cement trucks an entire day to fill it. The foundation weighs as much as the Space Needle itself and provide sa center of gravity just above ground. The revolving restaurant was balanced so perfectly that it can rotate with a one horsepower electric motor. The 605-foot tall Needle has elevators that travel 10 mph, 14 feet per second, 800 feet per minute, or as fast as a raindrop falls to earth. A snowflake falls at 3 mph, so when you go up during a snowstorm it appears to be snowing up. The Needle is built to withstand a 200 mph wind and in 2001 it easily withstood an earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale.
The OCLC board of trustees and CEO Jay Jordan spent all day Sunday in committee meetings and then Monday in the board meeting. I always learn a lot at OCLC meetings. Fifteen years ago some pundits — myself not included — were saying that libraries were history — as in toast — they were not long for the emerging digital world. Been to a local or college library lately? They are full of people and many are expanding their facilities. Library use has doubled over the past decade. What happened to the digital “vision”? It turns out that the digital and physical can get along together quite well and OCLC is playing a key role in helping libraries adapt to the changes ahead.
Since OCLC announced it was making its cloud-based library management services available to early adopters just 10 months ago, 32 libraries have committed to using OCLC Web-scale Management Services (WMS), the Web-based cooperative library management tools for meta-data management, acquisitions, circulation, license management and work-flow improvement. The early-adopter phase has now ended, and July 1 will mark general release of these innovative cloud-based services. The big picture idea behind WMS is to offer member libraries a single unified solution to help streamline routine tasks—like acquisitions and circulation. By moving these functions to the Web, libraries are able to share infrastructure costs and resources, as well as collaborate in ways that free them from the restrictions of local hardware and software.
On our final day in Seattle, we were fortunate to have a tour of Microsoft Research. Lee Dirks, director of Education & Scholarly Communication in Microsoft’s External Research division graciously hosted our visit. Lee was Microsoft’s archivist from 1996-1999 and before that was Preservation Services Manager at OCLC from 1995-96. Now that I am a student again, I found the academic search project Lee’s team is working on to be quite interesting. Academic Search is a free engine developed by Microsoft Research Asia to help users quickly find information about academic researchers and their activities. It is also a test-bed for their object-level vertical search research. With Academic Search, you can find top researchers, their papers, conferences, journals, and even relationships between researchers who may be co-authoring papers.